5 months ago
BORN has a special connection to Chennai, or Madras, as it was once known. The MD of BORN Asia Pacific and Japan, Prakash Gurumoorthy, hails from here, while BORN CEO Dilip Keshu attended university there at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology Madras, considered one of the top engineering colleges in the country.
Education has always been paramount to Chennai – the oldest technical institution established outside Europe, the College of Engineering, Guindy, was established here in 1794. No wonder then that two out of the handful of Nobel laureates of Indian origin hail from this southern Indian city. The Nobel Prize for Physics was won by C.V. Raman for his field of light-scattering as well as astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrashekhar, after whom the Chandrashekhar limit, used to calculate stellar mass, is named.
Chennai proper turns 380 years old this year, marking the anniversary of the sale of Madraspattinam, then a sleepy fishing village on the eastern Coromandel coast of India, to the British East India Company. The city was officially called Madras till 1996, which explains its most popular export – Madras cotton, with its typical pattern and plaid checks, which found favour around the world.
Weavers of cotton weren’t the only thing that drew businessmen to Madras though. As far back as the 1788, Welshman Thomas Parry recognised the business and commerce potential of the city and founded a banking and piece goods business. It went on to become the eponymous store Parry’s, now the oldest surviving mercantile name in Chennai. Parry’s had many firsts to its name – including the setting up of the first sugar factory in 1842, and being the first to manufacture fertilizers on the Indian subcontinent. It was also the first private company to do research and development. Today, Parry’s lends its name to one of Chennai’s central business districts.
The port these days sees more cars, motorcycles, and leather products passing through its docks than cotton. Chennai is called the ‘Detroit of India’ for the fact that it is home to more than a third of the Indian automobile industry. Aside from global automobile majors such as Ford and Hyundai and local ones such as TVS Motors and Ashok Leyland, Chennai is home to an increasing number of tech parks along the so-called ‘IT corridor’, a testament to its educated workforce and ranking as the safest city in India. The city is the second largest exporter of IT services in the country after Bangalore.
Chennaiites are proud of the fact that the local language Tamil is one of the longest surviving languages in the world, its literature nurtured by dynasties such as the Pallava and Cholas. The latter’s seafaring expeditions ensured the dissemination the local style of architecture to many temples around Southeast Asia. The area around Chennai, in fact, can trace its antecedents back to the first millennium CE and the city’s age-old classical Carnatic music tradition has landed it on the UNESCO Creative Cities Network list. It is also home to another world-famous institution of arts learning, Kalakshetra, founded in 1936. It’s director was Rukmini Devi Arundale – the first woman to be nominated to the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Indian Parliament, and who turned down Indian Presidency when it was offered to her. Not that Chennai needed any more illustrious politicians – four Presidents and one Governor-General have come from the city. Anyway, Arundale – friends with the likes of ballerina Anna Pavlova and educator Maria Montessori – was responsible for the revival of Bharatanatyam from its temple dancer heritage to become one of the foremost Indian classical dances and birthed the Kalakshetra style of dance. Kalakshetra alumni are among the leading lights of Indian classical dance.
That doesn’t stop Chennaiites from appreciating other kinds of culture, though. Chennai has the largest number of cinemas in India after Mumbai. This has resulted in a keen film-watching public that revere action heroes such as Rajnikanth and actors-turned-politicians such as MG Ramachandran and J Jayalalitha, both of whom served as Chief Ministers of the state of Tamil Nadu, of which Chennai is the capital.
They are also great readers and Chennai has become an important publishing hub to keep pace with them. Anna Centenary Library is one of Asia’s largest libraries, and The Hindu, India’s second-largest English language newspaper by readership, has been published here since 1878.
When Chennaiites are not working, reading, or watching movies or cricket – another city obsession, the cricket stadium dates back to 1916 – they can be found enjoying the charms of Marina Beach, lying between the deltas of the Cooum and Adyar rivers, and the second longest urban beach in the world.
BORN is based at the tech park Ramanujan IT City, named after the brilliant self-taught mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan, one of Chennai’s famous residents, who made substantial contributions to mathematical analysis, number theory and infinite series, that continue to find applications in computer science, string theory and the mathematical basis of black hole physics.